Varane Avashyamundu (Malayalam, 2020)

I got my wife a Netflix subscription for a month and the first thing we got to seeing is the Malayalam movie, Varane Avashyamundu (transl. Groom wanted). We had missed watching this in the theatres in February. The story starring Shobhana, Suresh Gopi, Dulquer Salman and Kalyani Priyadarshan and marks the directorial debut of Sathyan Anthikad’s son, Anoop Sathyan.

The movie begins with a single mother – daughter duo looking for groom for the daughter and ends with the daughter selecting a groom for her single mother. But, intertwined in this simple narrative are various societal issues. These include broken marriages, single mothers, adoption, Army men who return from Service but unable to survive in Society and many more. These were issues that Sathyan Anthikad also covered in his movies in the 1980s and 1990s. That Anoop Sathyan covers some of the same issues in 2020 is quite telling.

Shobhana is a single mother who has escaped from a broken marriage. Lalu Alex plays a supportive brother who helps her escape and supports her as she is living life. Her daughter, learning from her mother’s experience thinks a love marriage is destined for failure and attempts to find a groom for herself. She uses matrimonial websites to find her match.

Suresh Gopi plays a troubled military officer who has done great things while in the Armed Forces but struggles to fit in into Society. He says he finds it easier to face the enemy than to tell a woman that he loves her. He undergoes psychological treatment from a Doctor as he tries to fit into Society.

Dulquer Salman is an orphan who has been “adopted” by a TV series star grandmother. He has his own love life collapse during the movie with his colleague who flies away to the US to pursue her career. He then finds love again, with Shobhana’s daughter.

I think the movie tries to throw light on several societal issues that no longer get too much coverage in Malayalam movies that once were it’s mainstay. I think some of the questions that the movie raises are still not fully answered in our Society today. I enjoyed the performances of all the main protagonists – Shobhana, Dulquer Salman, Kalyani Priyadarshan and Suresh Gopi.

Ayyappanum Koshiyum (2020)

When AK released in theaters, our daughter and financial priorities meant that we decided to wait for the movie to release on an OTT platform. AK came out on Amazon Prime this Friday (March 13, 2020). We decided to watch the movie at home. We streamed it on our television set using Chromecast.

The COVID-19 virus had hit Pune with 9 positive cases. People were being wary of visiting malls and theaters. So, we decided not to catch any of the new movies in the theater over the weekend.

I had watched YouTube interviews (one and two) of the cast which included Biju Menon and Prithviraj before watching the movie.

Poster art for the movie. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Ayyappan Nair is a Sub-Inspector in a tribal area of Attappadi in Palakkad. Koshy is a retired havildar with an ego of having served in the Indian Army. The Police and Customs joint team arrest Koshy with liquor in a no-liquor zone. Upon arrest, Koshy makes his contacts known and the police are worried about the influence. Ayyappan Nair comforts Koshy with tactful words and seeks to appraise Koshy about the seriousness of his offence. Koshy now sobered by the realisation that he might have to spend time in jail, appeals to Ayyappan Nair’s humanity and the fact that he has a bedridden mother and two children at home, near Christmas time. Ayyappan Nair says he cannot help in the situation since it is a joint operation. Koshy acts as if he won’t be able to control himself if he can’t have a glass of alcohol. Ayyappan Nair commits a faux pas with encouragement from his superior of offering a glass of alcohol to Koshy who captures this on video in his phone.

This is the premise from which the whole movie starts. What follows are complications because of Koshy’s ego and Ayyappan Nair’s sense of justice that a person with influence can get away with so much in our society while the poor who have little or no-influence are made to suffer. Nair and his subordinate are suspended despite 27 years of unblemished Police service. Ayyappan Nair’s dismissal from police service returns him to his old ways – his wild animal self unleashed by knowledge of what a person with influence is able to accomplish. His wife is branded a Maoist and sought to be arrested. Ayyappan Nair’s good faith and trust built in his community, knowledge of the law and some good snooping skills are probably what saves him.

I find it hard to believe that Ayyappan Nair lets his guard down as Koshy films him at the beginning of the movie. He mistakes it for the fact that Koshy is looking for a contact on his phone. There wouldn’t be a movie if this didn’t happen.

As Koshy’s character develops, that his actions are not only ego-driven but are also a reflection of his relationship with his father. He seeks to gain his father’s approval which seems to drive his machismo. He soon learns of this, reprimands his wife for not having acted earlier despite living in fear and decides to teach his father a lesson.

Koshy also tries to teach Ayyappan Nair a lesson but interference by his father complicates a simple issue that the two men could deal with. Koshy admits defeat and claims that Police uniform is the only thing that would tame Ayyappan Nair’s wild animal reaction.

Ayyapan Nair’s tribal wife is one of those confident female characters who shatters Koshy’s machismo. It probably begins Koshy’s journey of self-realization and moderation. Ayyappan Nair’s journey back to moderation begins at the end of the movie.

The best way to end this review is to quote from another review:

This is a movie of two men and their egos. If you need an adrenaline rush and enjoy larger than life images venting out animalistic urges, go for this. It is a good watch for this day and age.

Anjana George, The Times of India

I’d recommend watching the movie.

Review: Mission Mangal (2019)

I went to PVR Cinemas at Pune’s Phoenix Marketcity Mall to watch Mission Mangal on Friday, August 15, 2019. Being a self-professed space geek, I expected the movie to be a cringe-show. It was.

Poster of Mission Mangal
Poster of Mission Mangal

Mission Mangal (2019) is a Bollywood movie inspired by the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM). The mission involved the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) flying a mission to Mars. The mission, a technology demonstrator, succeeded on it’s first attempt. The movie carries a disclaimer at the start of the movie which says that it is a fictionalised account.

The on-film depiction of ISRO is no where near it’s original. I don’t think a scientist in ISRO are insecure in their knowledge that they would feel threatened by a person who got his experience working in NASA and who returns to serve his country. This is the description of the villain of the movie. I think MOM borrowed and learnt a lot from NASA for the actual mission. MOM’s first signal acquisition was in fact from NASA’s Deep Space Network in Australia. I don’t think the movie really needed a villain.

The other issue that bothered me a lot is the need for a hero. Akshay Kumar is no where near the scientist that ISRO has. His imitation of talking to former President Abdul Kalam in Tamil was the lowest point of the film, in my opinion.

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) was made much more muscular and eye-candy than it actually is. There were a lot of holds on that American launch pad. Bollywood also made it into a two stage launch vehicle rather than the four stage rocket it is. I loved the sound and capture of the lift-off which reminded me so much of the Shuttle launches. India countsdown in minutes and seconds and not from 100 seconds.

There are struggles of the women scientist in ISRO. Tackling pressure at home, managing family, managing expectations of mother-in-laws, difficulty in getting a flat because of belonging to a certain religion and live-in-relationships. I would have been happier if these stereotypes would not all be pushed throughout the film. Also, I didn’t miss the stereotype of a woman who could not drive on road handling navigation for an interplanetary mission.

So, with all those things that I didn’t like in the movie, it still pulled through because it manages something that I think ISRO fails at communicating. How difficult it is to get funding for a mission. What parameters are considered and how difficult it is to plan a mission. It also attempted to explain orbital mechanics. The movie takes a dig at superstitious practices that ISRO itself follows. Akshay Kumar’s only positive show in the movie seems to be standing up as a rational person to some superstitious practices in the Mission Control Room.

I still think that the movie is a good starting point for a movie based on a scientific mission. For that, it is worth seeing. As I said at the beginning, I cringed a lot while watching the movie.

It took me a long time to write this review. Two other reviews are worth your time – Vasudevan Mukunth’s and Raja Sen for the Hindustan Times.

The movie ends crediting ISRO on it’s 50th anniversary and the women on whom the film is loosely based.

Laakhon Mein Ek

My brother introduced me to Biswa Kalyan Rath on YouTube and saw him later when he appeared on Amazon Prime Video in his own stand-up comic avatar in Biswa Mast Aadmi. Television ads for Season 2 of the show prompted me to check out the show, Laakhon Mein Ek on Amazon Prime Video.

When I visited the app, I realised that the television ads were for Season 2 and hence decided to start at the beginning, with Season 1. I went through both seasons in about 3-4 days. Each season has about 8 episodes and hence 3-4 days isn’t too much overload.

I had two broad take-away from the series. One was the lack of empathy in our modern life. We don’t know what stresses and sacrifices the topper faces in Season 1. We don’t empathise with the person running the institution and his investment into the organisation. The show has the point of view of one of the characters and you would think he was quite self-centred when you think about things emphatically from other people’s point of view. Similarly in Season 2, we don’t really look at the health sector and the various pressures that a Medical Officer is faced from doctor’s working under her, the suppliers and the government agency and departments involved. Each in turn also has various strings and pressures acting on them that makes it such an eye-opening watch.

The other broad lesson is that truth comes out only when one person breaks the rule that everyone in the environment agrees to, knowingly or unknowingly, and questions the status quo. Then, too, it isn’t the whole truth.

I would definitely recommend watching the show to get a chance to see first hand the empathy that I think you need in the world today and also realise how difficult it is for a truth to come out in the open.

Watch “Where in the world is it easiest to get rich? | Harald Eia | TEDxOslo” on YouTube

From the text: “Counter intuitive as it may sound high taxes, generous welfare states and strong unions make it a better environment for people who wants to earn huge amounts of money than free markets, low taxes and minimal government”

Sharing this talk since it is a contrary position to what I have experienced in my life.

The Mars Orbiter Mission story

Imran Khan has directed a short movie on the Mars Orbiter Mission and is now available on YouTube (trailer).

The video helped me relive September 24, 2014 again. On that day, I watched Mars Orbit Insertion from Mumbai while my fiance (and now my wife) watched with her sister in Kerala. On that day, she didn’t understand the importance of the crucial Mars Orbit Mission maneuver. But, she got it only today after watching the video with me today.

Must watch whether you follow space and definitely if you have a partner with whom you want to communicate the enthusiasm for space exploration.

Vikram-Vedha (2017)

(This is not meant as a review of the movie. There may be spoilers.)

Vikram-Vedha found mention in today’s Indian Express which reminded me that I also meant to write about it here. Better late than never.

This is how Shubhra Gupta writing in the Indian Express summarizes the movie. The article also mentions Angamaly Diaries, another movie I loved but didn’t get to writing about and other regional language movies.

…the Tamil language Vikram-Vedha directed by Pushpa-Gayatri: it’s gangsta-and-cops-and-robbers aesthetic is shot through tactics that immediately make you sit up and take notice. R Madhavan plays the cop-who-thinks-he-is-always-right with a swagger. Vijay Sethupathi’s bad guy out-swaggers the policeman.

I loved Vijay Sethupati in this movie. His entry scene in the movie received a lot of whistles from the audience and reminded me of Reddington entry scene in The Blacklist. The movie moves from the black and white chor-police narrative to one which goes into the grey shades. Intertwined in this is the classic Vikram-Vetaal of my childhood (whose introduction theme scared me) of question and answers, which leads the investigation forward and introduces the grey element. The connection is brought by Sethupati asking Madhavan “Oru Katha Sollutta?” (Tamil: Shall I tell you a story?), which is how Vikram-Vetaal stories also move forward.

The movie ends with a question that is not answered. Only Tamil movies have this realistic element. It leaves the answer to the question open to the movie-goer. It says not all questions have an easy solution. It is the grey that we have in Society today. Not everyone is purely white nor purely black. Everyone is a shade of grey. We can’t make out how dark these shades of grey are. All we can do is do the best in the given in situation and know that we have no control on the outcome.

I watched the movie at Cinepolis in Chembur, Mumbai on July 28, 2017.

Sakhavu (2017)

SakhavuPossible spoilers alert.

Example, is a great way to teach others how to live. Nivin Pauly’s character is a student politician steeped in the ways of modern politics. His image is a façade of good while he indulges in political manoeuvring using unfair means. His plans for subterfuge of a fellow comrade who seems to be in his way towards higher posts in the Party. His plans come to naught when he is asked to donate blood to a Comrade in ICU.

The Comrade’s friend begins the story of the Comrade’s life who launches agitations against the tyrant tea factory owners in Peerumedu. Once this agitation is a success, agrarian workers of the zamindar approach him. The Comrade agitates by working on the fields. Success leads him to further agitation. The Comrade teaches by example to his comrades in the Party by leading from the front, showing how to lead agitations and how to organise workers. Later, as we learn of The Comrade’s home life, we learn he teaches his daughter by example as well. The movie shows us of a time when idealism and a certain political philosophy was needed to end oppression.

Cut to the present, the tea factory is not working due to various issues including labour issues and profitability. The Comrade, urges a wealthy friend to purchase and run the tea factory to help the people who could not migrate from Peerumedu and forced by hunger into prostitution. There he faces the hoteliers who have illegally built on Company land. It is while fighting these land sharks that the Comrade is stabbed and in hospital.

The Company wins a case in court, with the news that the land sharks have been cleared and will become operational again. The movie asks, rhetorically, if the political philosophy that ended oppression in Peerumedu would work in this new world? Is that idealism, rekindled, the need of today?

Communism was a tool that was once used to transform a highly stratified society into one of the better states in India. It addresses only one part of the equation, though. It works only when there is an oppressed and an oppressor. The lines between these two has blurred and one wonders if, as the movie asks, it is the right tool for a polarised society we live in today.

(Watched on 15/04/2017 at the 8 pm show in Inox Cinemas, R City Mall, Ghatkopar, Mumbai)

 

Aanandam (2016)

Aanandam is a coming-of-age movie looking at the various issues faced by the protagonists on a four day industrial visit.

After watching Pulimurugan we dropped off our aunt, uncle and grandmother at their home and left to Kurla to watch Aanandam. The movie with a new star cast was watched with several flashbacks in my own mind to my own industrial visit to Goa.

The movie looks at friendships, college romances and relationships, has some interesting history trivia and mostly has some decent advice on how to spend your college days. These are given from the various experiences that the protagonists have when they go on a four day industrial visit via Mysore, Hampi and Goa.

I enjoyed watching the movie because of being easily able to identify with various of the characters in the movie with the people I encountered whilst in college. The advice that some of the characters in the film give are some that I wish was given to me when I was in college.The English sub-titles the movie had on the screening was also good with helping in understanding some of the references in the jokes made in the movie, which was nice.

The advice includes not worrying too much but accepting that everyone is as confused when they were in college.It is the smaller joys like time one spends with friends, the learning experience and interacting with others that leaves us with memories in the long run. These are lessons we learn and the memories we cherish much longer than class lessons. One has to learn to enjoy life whilst taking on responsibilities. Else we will never know when our hairs turn grey and we’d have become too old to enjoy life.

I would recommend you go and watch these movies.